Further thoughts* about family law in a post-truth world

family law

On Sunday I was briefly involved in a conversation on Twitter that began as a discussion of the Charlie Gard case and the impact, or lack of impact, that transparency has had upon the case. There is an awful lot of ignorance out there about the case and the motives of Great Ormond Street Hospital, the lawyers involved in the case and even the judge, Mr Justice Francis. The suggestion was that greater transparency in family justice had failed in the task it had given itself, i.e. to put right that ignorance.

My small contribution to the argument was that the excellent Transparency Project, a charity that aims to explain how family law and the family courts in England and Wales work, was all very well, but was founded on the misconception that truth will always win – i.e. if you explain the truth of why the family courts do what they do, then the public will understand. Sadly, however, that is not the case, as we live in a post-truth world. People will believe what they want to believe, irrespective of whether or not it is true. Accordingly, they will disregard anything that contradicts their belief, and accept anything that accords with it. And the source of the information will have no bearing whatsoever. All that matter is what it says, and thus information from a legal expert is just as likely to be rejected or accepted as information from the bloke down the pub.

Unfortunately, we see this sort of attitude all too often in relation to family law, the family courts and the family justice system. The facts may, for example, show that the system is not biased in favour of either mothers/wives or fathers/ husbands, but that does not prevent many people believing that it is, and therefore preferring the non-factual ‘evidence’.

Now, this whole ‘post-truthism’ is nothing new. It has always been there. The difference, however, is that nowadays it is far easier to be a ‘post-truther’ than it was just a few years ago, before the advent of the internet and social media. Whereas previously the only voice that the average person might have heard that contradicted the truth probably came from that bloke down the pub, nowadays the contrary voices are everywhere: on internet forums, in blog comment sections, on Facebook and even in the less well informed sections of the media. Whatever your beliefs, and no matter how absurd they may be, you will not have to look far to find someone who agrees with them.

And that is all that matters. That the other person takes the same view as you. The merits of the belief are accepted without question.

And it goes further. Experts are not trusted. They have an ulterior motive, usually profit. Accordingly, anyone claiming to be a family law expert is less likely to be listened to. We don’t need experts, we know best.

So what is to be done about this situation? Do we keep plugging away, as The Transparency Project does, in the hope that attitudes may change? Or is that no better than knocking our collective heads against a brick wall? Is the alternative to just give up and let people discover how the family justice system really works, when they experience it for themselves?

Do we simply hope that there will always be a majority of people who understand that the family justice system strives to do the best for those who are affected by its decisions, in particular the children? Or will there come a tipping-point, where the post-truthers outnumber the understanders? And what will happen then? Will the post-truthers demand that the law be changed to fit in with their warped ideals? Of course, then they will become the truthers…

I’m afraid I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I don’t think we will ever rid ourselves of the scourge of those who peddle nonsense. However, I remain optimistic that most of the population are clever enough to be able to distinguish between nonsense and the truth, and that truth-denial will therefore never really gain traction. It will, however, continue to attract a minority, who will do themselves no favours whatsoever, whether it be making bad decisions in connection with their own matters, or causing trouble and stress for those who, like the staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital, are just trying to do their best for those in need of help.

*My earlier thoughts were set out in this post.

Photo by tdreyer1 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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13 comments

dr. manhattan62 - July 25, 2017 at 4:59pm

“those who work or have worked within the court arena who dont like the public getting involved in controversial court proceeding will always brand them as “the scourge of those who peddle nonsense”.
like it or not its the future of our courts now. the internet has opened the doors of secrecy and theres no putting the toothpaste back in the tube.
Transparency, debate and conflict in the courts is the Future and its here to stay.

Paul - July 25, 2017 at 6:01pm

Seperating thousands of fathers from their children and profiting from their attempts to reconsile the situation has nothing to do with the best interests of the child and has everything to with the profit of legal professionals. We have seen that. Most people have observed it in action and the majority of people don’t approve of it. It is well documented. I doubt their is a family left in the country which has not been affected by this chaos in some capacity. Everyone knows someone directly affected. You can’t claim this is born out of ignorance, conspiracy theorists or post truthers.
Family law works in exactly the opposite way than what most right thinking people think it should work.
The law should be working to make sure children have input of two decent parents. Keeping families together not spitting them appart for profit.
Most right thinking people know that justice is not served in a secretive closed room.
(*Comment moderated)

Cameron Paterson - July 25, 2017 at 6:37pm

Paul: given how frequently you post on this blog, I’m sure you are well aware by now of our moderation policies. We are pretty liberal but insults and abuse are not allowed. Please observe our rules if you wish to keep commenting here

Paul - July 25, 2017 at 7:18pm

Yeh. I should probably be on the pay roll by now. Do you pay by the word ? I’ll swing by the office an pick up my wage slips some time 😉 – wouldnt want you to fall foul of unpaid labour laws lol.

dr. manhattan62 - July 25, 2017 at 9:09pm

well said paul,
and i agree with your views.
as previously stated all of us bantering on about this injustice gets us nowhere. its like a dog chasing its tail. so where does that leave us.
these injustices are nothing new, they’ve been going on for hundreds even thousands of years way back to the Romans etc.
just look at the stories of Charles dickens, they are a good example of how people have been badly treated and looked upon as vermin.
the unfortunate truth about the human race is that bright people rarely ever use their intelligence for the good of mankind, they are usually driven by personal gain and in many cased down right greed.
We know the system is out of control, what we have to figure out is how to get it back under public control.

JamesB - July 26, 2017 at 10:27am

I advise anyone who thinks that, like I do too, to write at least one letter to his or her MP with comments and suggestions. They can’t ignore us all can they? A rhetorical question, perhaps they can, but that is worth a go, don’t forget to try and get on with your own life as much as you can though, it is difficult I know, regards to all.

Stitchedup - July 26, 2017 at 11:00am

The truth is John, the courts operate on a post-truth basis. Let’s take non-mols and allegations of domestic abuse as an example. The courts have removed any requirements for evidence, a claim to be in fear of possible domestic abuse is enough to secure a non-mol, and if secured on an ex-parte basis there has not even been any opportunity to refute the allegations prior to the order being made. The courts have therefor operated on the basis of guilty until proven innocent yet it is claimed that innocent until proven guilty is the way courts work… Clearly not the case… Clearly a post truth claim. We then have the issue of referring to any woman making an allegation of domestic abuse as a victim before any evidence has been offered let alone allegations having actually been proven, because as mentioned previously, no proof is needed. Then this post-truth victim becomes a survivor, i.e. She had survived a near death experience, so yet more post-truth. The respondent is then labelled a violent domestic abuser, yet more post-truth, and his heinous crime is used in statistics to demonstrate how big a problem domestic abuse is, a false statistic because the non-mol has been secured on the basis of no evidence so yet more post-truth. Then we have a cohort of the judiciary, CPS/DPP, Politicians and leaders of feminist organisations e.g. Starmer, Hale, Saunders, Neet, Harman; we plug the same old B.S. Man bad, woman good mantra… Yet more post truth. Then of course we have the legal professionals who unscrupulously make B.S. Claims of domestic abuse to get the upper hand in divorce and separation cases e.g. Secure legal aid, occupation of the family home, custody of the children, better financial settlements etc, i.e. They use post-truth allegations of domestic abuse to make their work as lawyers easier. How much more pos-truth do you want John???

dr manhattan - July 26, 2017 at 3:08pm

Some very relevant points there. its a worrying trend for shure.

Paul - July 26, 2017 at 3:29pm

I have I ideas on how we can approach this matter and make changes. If anyone is serious about changing this situation ask Cameron Paterson for my email address. Lets collectively stop doing nothing.

dr manhattan - July 26, 2017 at 4:31pm

yes i would like your email.

Sarah Phillimore - July 28, 2017 at 9:29am

Dear John

I was one of those you had a conversation about this on Twitter. I am a Trustee of The Transparency Project, but I comment here in a personal capacity. However, I hope my work with the TP and elsewhere reassures you that I am able to comment on this issue with some authority.

I wrote about it in more detail herehttp://childprotectionresource.online/my-belief-is-the-same-as-your-fact-campaigning-in-the-post-truth-world/

I agree with much of what you say, and sadly the comments that you always seem to attract from those insisting that the family courts are completely biased against men provide you with some very clear data to support your hypothesis.

I have been attempting to re-frame narratives about the family justice system since about 2011 and for my pains find myself now the target of quite serious abuse and harassment from a small group of people who care nothing for facts but simply that their narrative prevails, and their voices are the loudest. I have been reported to the Bar Standards Board, been threatened with referrals to Children’s Services, had my photograph manipulated in crude ways all across social media etc, etc.

But I do not do what I do for the benefit of these people. Most I suspect have some ingrained mental health issues of personality disorder. I do what I do for the benefit of those who are lurking, reading and worried.

It is frankly a disgrace that a charity such as The Transparency Project is necessary. But while we have a Government absorbed in the madness of Brexit and a judiciary who think the cure is judgments of ever increasing length and ever more chilling ‘gloss’ upon our statutes (‘nothing else will do’ for e.g, which has caused serious misery), there has to be someone or something which can help people make sense of the law.

I am very concerned, and have been for some time now, that the state of play with regard to public understanding of and engagement with the law, is so poor that this will have a detrimental impact on society as a whole. The Rule of Law is an essential component of any civilised society worth living in – and if our Government won’t help and our judiciary don’t help then I will certainly not stop trying to fill in the gaps.

yes, it may well be shouting into the abyss. But frankly, I don’t have any other hobbies.

CB - July 31, 2017 at 6:27pm

@ Sarah Phillmore
It was not the Transparency Project site you suffered abuse????
It was your own site Child Protection Resource, fact

Stitchedup - July 31, 2017 at 1:19pm

“that the state of play with regard to public understanding of and engagement with the law, is so poor that this will have a detrimental impact on society as a whole”
I largely agree, but it’s not public mis-understanding of the law either. Written law, in theory, may well be unbiased; however, it’s how law is interpreted and how it is targeted that results in bias. How on earth anybody can claim the justice system, family courts or criminal courts, is a level playing field for both genders really is beyond belief. Everything possible is done to excuse women in the family courts to avoid them entering the criminal justice system, and when they do, they receive far lighter sentences. I’m not even going to bother providing links to data or information about schemes targeted at women and the criminal justice system because anybody with an ounce knowledge will be fully aware of the FACTS.

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